JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The lawyer for suspended City Council member Reggie Brown wants his client’s “yes” vote on a 2011 bill excluded as evidence when he goes to trial later this summer.
Reggie Brown and Katrina Brown, who are not related, were named in a 38-count federal indictment last May that included charges of conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud. The fraud allegations involve money loaned to Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce business, KJB Specialties.
In 2011, the City Council voted 14-3 in favor of a bill approving a loan of $380,000 and grant of up to $260,000 from the city’s Northwest Jacksonville Economic Development Fund for KJB Specialties. The money was supposed to help the company create 56 jobs. One paragraph of the federal indictment explains this council vote, ending with the sentence, “REGINALD BROWN voted in favor of the Ordinance.”
In a motion filed Wednesday, Brown’s attorney wants evidence related to the paragraph’s last sentence excluded, arguing it is prejudicial to his client. He argues that the conspiracy is not alleged to have even started until late 2013 and that the evidence is unclear as to whether the two Browns even knew each other in 2011. The motion goes on to say that the paragraph in question suggests Reggie Brown was working with Katrina Brown and her family in 2011 and argues there’s no evidence to support that.
COURT DOCUMENT: Reggie Brown's motion to limit evidence regarding council vote
Reggie Brown and his attorney made a similar argument in October, when they filed a motion asking to strike the entire paragraph from the indictment. That motion made similar arguments about the timeline of the vote and the alleged conspiracy and also stated that Brown routinely voted for any business project in Northwest Jacksonville that did not include the sale of alcoholic beverages or gambling-related activities. A federal judge denied that motion, stating the time to argue striking evidence such as this was after it had been presented at trial.
Meanwhile, Reggie and Katrina Brown are due in court next week for a hearing on jury selection. On June 17, the court set the status hearing for 2 p.m. the following Monday. Both Browns are required to attend the hearing. Prior to this hearing being set, the next court date in the case was not scheduled until July 22.
One day after the hearing was set, Reggie Brown’s attorney submitted to the court a set of proposed questions for voir dire, the jury selection process. Unlike in state courts, where lawyers ask potential jurors a variety of questions, in federal courts, the judge is typically the one asking the questions of jurors.
Typical questions in the federal jury selection process involve whether or not the potential juror knows anyone involved in the case, has any personal interest in the case or any reason why they cannot render an impartial verdict. Lawyers can also submit proposed questions they would like to see as a part of the voir dire, which a judge may or may not include in the questioning.
The 17-page proposed questionnaire from Reggie Brown’s attorney, Thomas Bell, includes questions about a potential juror’s biographical information, employment, education, military experience, experience with the legal system and experience with law enforcement.
COURT DOCUMENT: Proposed questionnaire for jury selection
Another section seeks answers from the prospective juror about the nature of the charges in the case and pretrial publicity. One question asks whether the person agrees or disagrees with the statement, “The media generally presents both sides in a criminal case equally.” The following question asks if they feel the media is generally pro-defendant, pro-government or unbiased. Subsequent questions ask the potential juror about what they have heard about this case and whether they think Brown may be guilty or not guilty of the charges.
Jury selection is set to begin Aug. 15, with the trial scheduled to begin the following Monday, Aug. 19. A judge previously denied motions from each defendant asking they be tried separately.
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